Understanding What Makes Narrative Change So Hard
Nonprofits can go too far in pointing fingers at their own shortcomings
In December 2014, a group of health activists from around the world staged a mock carnival outside a hospital in Barcelona, Spain, to protest the inflated price of Sovaldi, a then-new drug for Hepatitis C sold by the pharmaceutical corporation, Gilead. As part of the carnival, passersby could spin a mock wheel of fortune, to determine the price they would pay for their medications. It always stopped at the highest price, $84,000, the market rate for a single course of Sovaldi.
That protest, as described in the new book The Art of Activism by Steve Duncombe and Steve Lambert, (and which I attended and helped fund as part of my then job at the Open Society Foundations’ Public Health Program) was just one effort in a decades-long campaign by activists around the world to bring down the price of essential medicines and ensure they are accessible and affordable to everyone. Years later, many of those same activists would once again join forces to campaign for equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines as part of the Free The Vaccine campaign, in collaboration with the People’s Vaccine movement.
Beyond campaigns targeting specific medications, a broader aim of the access to medicines movement is to “change the narrative” about medicines as a whole, to get society to view medicines as public goods rather than private goods—and, thereby, change the entire system by which medicines are developed and marketed and distributed.
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